With little recourse after state Supreme Court ruling, Coloradans seek legal and electoral means to protect communities against oil and gas drilling
Break Free protesters at a fracking site in Colorado on May 14. (Photo: Christian O’Rourke/Survival Media Agency)
Left with few options for stopping the scourge of oil and gas drilling in their state, Colorado residents are turning to creative forms of resistance in what the Denver Post calls “a last-ditch push for protection” against fracking.
The Colorado Supreme Court ruled in early May that state rules promoting oil and gas development trump local attempts to restrict or ban drilling near homes and schools. As such, residents who live near proposed drilling sites “said they see few options” for stopping new projects, the Post reported.
But tenacious Coloradans—who came out en masse earlier this month for Break Free protests against fossil fuels—aren’t giving up the fight.
In and around Parachute and Greeley, where proposed projects could put 53 new wells within municipal limits and a fracking waste facility on the banks of the Colorado River, residents are looking to the state’s new “urban mitigation” rule—under which extraction must minimize impact using higher sound walls, quiet rigs, and pipeline instead of trucks to move oil and gas out to markets—for possible relief.
“In Colorado, you can’t stop the drilling,” said Carl Erickson, chairman of the citizen group Weld Air and Water. “This is a last-ditch effort.”
Meanwhile, Boulder County last week responded to the state Supreme Court’s ruling by ending its own years-long moratorium on accepting applications for new oil and gas operations in the county—one that would have been in place until June 2018—but immediately replaced it with a new and shorter six-month-long moratorium.
In their statement, Boulder County commissioners made clear that their move came under duress: “We strongly believe that local governments should have sufficient regulatory authority to address local impacts of oil and gas development, and we continue to be disappointed by judicial, legislative, and regulatory decisions that do not adequately protect our residents from industrial activities like fracking.”
Coloradans best chance for curtailing oil and gas drilling, however, may come at the ballot box in November. Community groups are currently gathering signatures for three ballot initiatives aimed at establishing 2,500-foot buffers and boosting local power to regulate oil and gas activity near people.
These, too, were described to The Intercept as “a last-ditch effort” by Tricia Olson, director of Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development, or CREED, which is pushing to get two of the measures on the ballot.
“The only recourse we ordinary citizens have is to collect signatures on petitions for statewide ballot amendments to the Colorado Constitution, which, if voted in, supersede existing legislative law,” wrote Longmont resident Judith Blackburn in a letter to the editor published in the Times-Call over the weekend.
Unfortunately—if not surprisingly—these citizen-led initiatives face well-funded opposition, as The Intercept reported Saturday.
“Campaign finance filings released this month indicate just how much oil and gas companies are willing to pony up to drill freely,” wrote journalist Alleen Brown. What’s more, Brown added, “top Democrats in Colorado have warmed to the frackers.”
And oil and gas industry backers have launched their own initiatives, Boulder Weekly reported last week, including one “which would make it nearly impossible for Colorado citizens to ever use direct democracy to amend the constitution in the future.”
“A close examination exposes the Raise the Bar initiative as just another effort that will prop up the oil and gas industry while further stripping the rights of Colorado citizens in order to insure the industry’s ability to continue to drill at will with ineffective state oversight,” Boulder Weekly charged. “And of course, [Democratic] Governor [John] Hickenlooper supports the effort along with his Republican allies.”
In fact, the newspaper warned, “if Raise the Bar passes, both conservatives and progressives will lose their ability to have a say in Colorado’s political system which is increasingly controlled by only a handful of wealthy individuals and the oil industry.”
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